The new Fireblade has been spotted and man is everyone excited. However, keen viewers among us might have noticed it appears to be sporting a I4 engine instead of the V4 some thought it might move to. What difference does it make? Honestly the bike itself will still walk out the door of dealerships either way, but lets take a deeper look at what the actual matchup looks like.
The tried and true Inline 4 cylinder
Since the dawn of creation the Inline 4 has been a popular choice for motorcycle engines. Reliable and powerful, it powered some of the best bikes of all time. The most popular variations are found in Japanese sport bikes, but other manufactures have caught on too. However, in this comparison we will consider the bread and butter sport bike I4. As anyone who has sat next to that one guy in flip flops on a GSX-R600 at a red light knows, they will rev to the moon and scream the whole way up. This is due to the powerband. Larger CC's get some torque lower in the range, but the 600 class especially must be high in the rev band to get to pretend they are Rossi on their way to work. They can also gain rev very quickly making it a great motor for acceleration and subsequently the track due to high peak horsepower as well. I mean there is a reason why inline 4 cylinders are very popular in MotoGP, don't worry Ducati and Aprilia we will get to you. Apart from performance, the big four manufacturers (Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha) have produced about a gazillion of these engines so spare parts and replacement engines are easily found. Overall the inline 4 is a great all round engine that is cheap to get on and will do the job.
The shiny V4
If you don't have $40k ready to spend on a sport bike go ahead and circle back around to the I4 section and find a nice bike there, sorry mate. For the well off in the crowd go ahead and get a V4 because boy is it a good one. Seen in the upper end, typically Italian, super bikes, this engine produces huge horsepower like the I4. It goes about delivering it in a different way though. Generally, the V4 will have more torque lower in the rev range with a similar high performance top end. Not to go to far down the rabbit hole, but Honda is the only Japanese team to use a V4 (which is part of why many thought the new Fireblade would be sporting one as well). Along with Ducati, this might be the reason why they are dominating everyone else. I mean we can't pretend to have not seen or heard the pitiable screams from Yamaha riders about the drive out issues. Anyways, the moral of the story is at the pinnacle of motorsport the V4's are coming on strong and seem to be outrunning the I4's. Some of the issues for us mere mortals who do not get to ride a $1M race bike with a team to maintain it, is that pesky maintenance. The V4 is very complex and expensive to manufacture (see above). It also tends to be heavier than their I4 counterparts. However, if you find yourself lucky enough to own one of these bikes you will find it has one of the best noises in the motorcycle world. I mean it is basically half of a V8 and man does it sound it. As if it has an entire baritone section in the exhaust.
So which do you want?
Well, obviously that is a loaded question. If your goal is a solid sports bike with a bullet proof engine, you want an I4, but if you are feeling yourself and want the more patrician option you have to get a V4. They both have their place, however for outright performance the V4 wins. Everyone at the track day will be upset as you fly by them on the straights just don't take it personally when they are laughing as they lap you after it breaks down. At the end of the day it's a preference thing. I know, I know I'm copping out of this one. It truly is down to what type of riding you want to do and how much money you have to throw at your bike.
To throw out an opinion, lets take another look at the new Fireblade. If they had gone with a V4 we might have seen the top performing liter bike from Japan, but wat what cost, literally. I think a V4 in the Fireblade would have been a shock to the Honda faithful who are not used to paying premium prices for their bikes. As much as I would have loved to see Honda do with the V4 what they have done with the hybrid supercar, I think they did well playing it safe with their tried and true I4. Plus heritage with the Fireblade being a I4. If it was me I would have gone for the V4 and taken from racing tech learned in MotoGP and created a market killer, but I understand why Honda decided not to.
What engine configuration do you prefer? What other factors do you look for in an engine? Let me know what you think in the comments.